Pilots Suspect iPhone Interference in 2011 Airline Incident

An airline incident suggests that an iPhone may have caused interference with the flight equipment on a regional airliner, Bloomberg reports.


According to an unidentified co-pilot speaking with NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System about a 2011 incident when compasses of the airplane went out of control at 9,000 feet, the moment of the iPhone being turned off coincided with the moment the heading problem was solved. In the end, the plane landed safely.

The regional airliner was climbing past 9,000 feet when its compasses went haywire, leading pilots several miles off course until a flight attendant persuaded a passenger in row 9 to switch off an Apple Inc. iPhone.

“The timing of the cellphone being turned off coincided with the moment where our heading problem was solved,” the unidentified co-pilot told NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System about the 2011 incident. The plane landed safely.

Public figures say there are more than necessary rules that restrict the use of tablets, smartphones, laptops and other devices during flights.

The problem is that a decade of pilot reports and scientific studies, and government and airline reporting systems tell another story. The airline reporting systems logged dozens of cases when consumer electronics were suspected of interfering with navigation.

The airline industry has been divided: Delta Air Lines has identified 27 suspect incidents of passenger electronics causing aircraft malfunctions (unverified), but United Continental Holdings argues for relaxed in-flight rules and welcomes consumer electronics, but the main reason is because the new rules would be difficult for flight attendants to enforce.

In the light of fresh approval for pilots’ iPads, the consumer electronics issue becomes timely: Delta and Alaska Air Group were using FAA guidelines to allow their pilots to switch from books to iPads, replacing the heavyweight paper manuals with electronic manuals.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits use of electronics while a plane is below 10,000 feet, with the exception of portable recording devices, hearing aids, heart pacemakers and electric shavers.

The FAA has been leaning toward relaxing its current rules, which prohibit the use of iPhones, iPads and iPods, while the plane is under 10,000 feet. But the new regulation is under development. Hopefully, the rule will reach its final form by the end of the year.

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